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PFT’s 2021 coach of the year: Mike Vrabel

Mike Florio and Mike Golic debate if Derrick Henry coming back into the fold can put the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans into Super Bowl contention.

This was a tough one. Tougher than most of the others we’ve had to make this year.

Four or five guys can make the case for the coach of the year prize. PFT’s winner is the man whose steady hand guided his team to the best record in a top-heavy conference -- despite not having his best player for more than half of the season.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel, employing the “no excuses” mindset he surely learned during his time as a player on the Patriots, did not miss a beat when his team lost running back Derrick Henry, news that came a day after the Titans seemingly wrapped up the AFC South by completing a sweep of the Colts on Halloween.

The Titans nevertheless kept winning, humbling the all-in Rams on a Sunday night in L.A. and then holding off a potent Saints team to get to 8-2. The correction came with a couple of losses, including a head-scratcher at home to the Texans and a thumping at New England. After the bye, however, the Titans rediscovered their footing, shutting out the Jaguars before stumbling at Pittsburgh before finding a way to overcome a 10-point deficit against the 49ers on a Thursday night in late December.

A dismantling of the Dolphins and an inexplicably close call at Houston gave the Titans the most coveted prize in either conference, the first overall seed. With Henry back, the extra week makes a huge difference. It could be the difference between returning to L.A. for the Super Bowl and making an early exit from the playoffs.

Along the way, the Titans utilized more players than any team in NFL history, a record that was broken way back in Week 12.

So, yes, Vrabel earned it, in a year where plenty of other coaches can make a strong case for the honor. No other case is stronger than the one that can be made for Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who has put together a trio of 13-win seasons to start his career as a head coach. Also, Bengals coach Zac Taylor went from the dealing with rumors of getting fired after the 2020 season to an unlikely division championship, going worst to first in the ultra-difficult AFC North.

And it’s impossible to ignore Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who held his team together through unprecedented adversity to make the playoffs, capping the season with one of the most memorable regular-season games we’ve ever seen or will ever see. His reward should be the permanent job in Las Vegas.